BEIRUT: Lebanon has launched the first comprehensive government initiative to combat violence against women and girls in the country, in the latest of a series of measures aiming to protect women in the domestic sphere and beyond. The strategy was launched last Friday by Minister of State for the Economic Empowerment of Women and Youth Violette Safadi.
It was initiated and prepared by the former Office of the Minister of State for Women’s Affairs in partnership with the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia and the U.N. Population Fund in Lebanon (UNFPA).
The strategy, which outlines an action plan that aims to achieve results by 2029, is the state’s latest effort at institutionalizing gender equality inside and outside the home. In 2014, Lebanon’s first domestic violence law was adopted, and then in November last year, a group of lawmakers submitted proposed amendments to it to expand the definitions of “family” and “domestic violence” to provide broader protections.
But it would seem that progress still needs to be made. On Feb. 4, Parliament’s Human Rights Committee met to discuss the implementation of and potential amendments to the law.
At the meeting, Lebanese University professor Marguerite Helou, who helped develop the combating violence strategy, outlined the progress that had been made in Lebanon and the Arab world regarding legal protections for women, according to the state-run National News Agency.
However, Helou added that challenges to the law’s implementation remained, including a “lack of serious political administration in dealing with women’s issues and the sectarian pressures on the legislative process in all matters.”
The new strategy to combat violence proposes a holistic, inclusive, interministerial action plan centering around the “Five P’s” of due diligence, making it the state’s responsibility for taking action to prevent, protect, prosecute, punish and provide redress for the victims of violence, in line with international human rights law.
The strategy covers all women in Lebanon, Lebanese or otherwise, including refugees, the elderly and those with disabilities.
“There has to be an interministerial coordination mechanism because strategy is not only implemented by one single entity, it requires everybody’s input the law enforcement sector, the Social Affairs Ministry, the Health Ministry, the Education Ministry. ... It requires the input and contribution of the civil society organizations,” UNFPA office head Asma Kurdahi told The Daily Star.
The strategy’s proposed action plan details the role ministries would play in combating all forms of violence against women. At the launch, Mehrinaz El-Awadi, director of the ESCWA Center for Women, emphasized the importance of the strategy’s adoption by the executive and legislative authorities.
The Health Ministry, for instance, would work with and supervise the centers that provide medical and psychological care for victims who have experienced mental and physical trauma so that they receive adequate attention and access to health care. The Finance Ministry would play a vital role in guaranteeing the funds are available to provide the services.
The Social Affairs Ministry would be responsible for training the service providers, including social workers, to ensure they adhere to international standards.
The Interior Ministry would be responsible for training the Internal Security Forces and law enforcement officers in the handling of cases.
The Labor Ministry would be tasked with imposing sanctions and procedures on all institutions and sectors to address and prevent sexual harassment and abuse.
Helou said a monitoring mechanism, the Committee to Supervise the Implementation of the Strategy and Its Action Plan, had been proposed.
It would be made up of representatives from civil society, the National Commission for Lebanese Women, the Office of the Minister of State for the Economic Empowerment of Women and Youth, the Social Affairs Ministry and the Human Rights Committee. The committee would aim to follow up with each body to monitor and evaluate the progress made on the action plan.
Eradicating violence against women requires “a concerted effort in which everybody has to participate because it’s mostly a cultural issue, a religiously sanctioned issue. ... You have to build a culture of nonviolence and equality,” Helou told The Daily Star.
Kurdahi also discussed the lack of data available on victims of violence in Lebanon. The strategy addresses this as well.
“One of the main actions in the plan of the strategy is to have these regular surveys that will allow you to measure the prevalence [of violence] and to put systems in place to be able to monitor whether the prevalence is going down or increasing,” Kurdahi said.
According to the strategy outline, the available data issued by the ISF and organizations providing services to victims indicate that violence against women and girls is prevalent throughout Lebanon and among both Lebanese and non-Lebanese women.
According to the strategy, numbers released by KAFA, an NGO combating violence against women, show a noticeable rise in the number of reported cases from 2013 to 2016. The number of cases of sexual assault rose from 36 in 2013 to 86 in 2014 and 304 in 2015; physical violence cases, from 145 in 2013 to 400 in 2014 and 673 in 2015; verbal violence cases, from 136 in 2013 to 338 in 2014 and 684 in 2015.